First Impressions

June 17, 2009 § 1 Comment

When I landed in Tokyo, the person I was sitting next to (I had the middle seat) didn’t lift the window, so I couldn’t do any initial inspecting from the air. I had had a mostly pleasant flight, despite my unfortunate seating arrangement. The people I was sitting with, a middle-aged Japanese woman and a middle-aged American man, kindly allowed me to use both of the armrests, and I took them up on their offer. I watched three or four movies to pass the 10-hour flight–He’s Just Not That Into You (already seen it–love it), The Reader (snooze), and Bride Wars (cheesy fun). Luckily, the man who had the aisle seat felt the need to stretch his legs often, so whenever he got up, I got up and paced about the cabin. 

Upon landing, I was still nervous about making my connection to the airport across town, so I booked it through customs (success), got my luggage (no problems there), found my way to the nearest money exchange (double success), and headed straight for the bus counter to buy a ticket for the shuttle to the other airport (great success!). So far things we’re going exactly according to plan! When I went outside to my bus stop, I saw a few people standing there, so I stood behind them. The bus stop manager (is this what they’re called?) checked my ticket, and told me that my bus wasn’t coming for 10 minutes. I already knew this, but assumed I could stand in line anyways. Wrong! As it turned out, there were three different “queues”–one for the people departing on the next bus, one for the people departing on the bus after that, and one for people who’s bus would be coming third. Talk about organization! The funny part was that there were only 1 or 2 other people waiting, so I didn’t think it was a big deal if I stood there, but the bus manager was adamant that I stand in the appropriate queue. But so far, everyone understood and spoke enough English to help me, so I didn’t mind having to be told 2 (3?) times to stand in the right line. 
My bus came and I boarded successfully. I was hoping to be able to see a bit of Tokyo out the window on the hour-long ride, but two things interrupted this: One, I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, and two, the little I did see was mostly cloudiness and industrial looking buildings. Nothing fancy, nothing to pique my interest, really. So I slept most of the way. 
When I arrived at the second airport (Haneda), it was like I was in a new world. The airport was packed with Japanese business travelers walking hurriedly, many chattering away on cell phones that looked different than the ones we have back home. I gathered that this airport was more of a commuter airport for the Japanese, as it seemed that most of these business travelers (men and women) were heading for other Japanese cities. When I travel in the U.S., it seems that most business travelers aim for comfort in their apparel–rarely do you see someone travel in a business suit (at least where I live on the west coast). But these business travelers were all wearing black suits (no navy, no brown–all black) and heels, if they were women. 
The Japanese flight attendants were also a sight. They all have very intricate uniforms involving very fancy neckwear. They seem to take their jobs very seriously, and they really do a great job. 
I did happen to see quite a few Americans waiting to board my flight to Okinawa, which was my first clue that Okinawa was not going to be the purely Japanese experience I was kind of hoping for (more on that later). I could tell that the Americans on my flight were all military or their dependents, which makes sense given the sheer number of military personnel living on Okinawa (something like 40,000, could be higher). 
My flight from Tokyo to Okinawa was only 2.5 hours, but it seemed much, much longer than the flight from L.A. to Tokyo. The first reason was no fancy personal movie player on the seat in front of me. Drat! The second reason was that I was exhausted from not having slept on the Tokyo flight (even though I took a Lunesta). So I put on my eye mask, pulled up my hoodie, and attempted to sleep. I was never awoken by the dreaded drink cart to the elbow (this time I had an aisle seat–score!), but I kept waking up due to cold, so I didn’t sleep very well. Oh, did I mention that I was on the Pokemon plane?! I never saw the outside of the plane, but the inside of the plane was completely decorated with Pokemon characters, just like I predicted from my earlier post!! I was highly amused. 
When I landed in Okinawa I rushed to the nearest bathroom to make myself look (semi) presentable for Bryan–he hadn’t seen me for 2 weeks and I wanted to look as good as a person who has just traveled for what seemed like 24 hours could be expected to look. I got my luggage without a problem and rushed through the security exit into Bryan’s waiting arms. I was so happy to see him! We headed for the parking structure, where his brand-new Japanese car was waiting. I, of course, headed for the right (wrong) side of the car, and Bryan had to remind me that in Japan, the passenger sits on the left. Driving from Naha International Airport to our house in Ishikawa took about 1 hour. My first impressions from that drive–lots of car dealerships, many signs and billboards written in Japanese (duh), and a strange number of signs written in English. Some of these were typical, like road signs and some stores and restaurants, but others were just plain funny. Like they tried to come up with a cute English name for their place of business, but somehow their intent was just lost in translation (Such as the hair salon called “Boy’s” that leads me to question “Boy’s what?” every time we drive past it. I’m planning to post an entire blog post about that. 
We stopped for sustenance at the Family Mart by our house (real name, in English), but I couldn’t understand what any of the food was and for some reason we weren’t feeling very adventurous, so we went to McDonald’s instead. Great way to spend my first night in Japan, right? Well it was the only thing open at 10 pm, it had drive-thru, and a Big Mac just sounded good to both of us. I guess some things never change, no matter what hemisphere you are in…

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